OAKLAND -- The A's expected to face Mariners starter James Paxton on Tuesday. Instead, they saw old nemesis Felix Hernandez for 5 2/3 innings. It didn't faze them, though, as the A's took down the Mariners, 3-2, to move within a game of the Astros for first place in the division.
"Obviously the game plan changes," Jed Lowrie said. "We've seen Felix a lot, so it wasn't a guy that we've never faced before."
Never mind that Hernandez came in with a 2.70 ERA in 49 career starts against the A's. Nothing much can get to this team these days, not even an unexpected matchup against King Felix, who was summoned from the bullpen for his first career relief appearance after Paxton was hit on the left forearm with a line drive in the first inning.
"We won this series and if we win the next, then I think we'll be in first place," said Marcus Semien, whose solo homer in the first tied the score at 1-1.
The A's increased their lead on the Mariners -- they are now 3 1/2 games up on Seattle for the second American League Wild Card spot -- and after they go for the sweep on Wednesday, the A's will play the Astros three times at the Coliseum with a chance to overtake them for the division lead.
"We're in a stretch of games now that are important to us," manager Bob Melvin said. "There's a lot of games left. We know where we're at in the division. Until you're out of it in the division, you don't think about the Wild Card."
It was Lowrie who provided the go-ahead runs in the third inning off Hernandez with a two-run blast to right, his 19th of the season and 100th of his career to put the A's ahead 3-1. He has been on a tear of late, entering the night with a .381 batting average (8-for-21) in his last five games. Lowrie now owns a six-game hit streak after hitting .134 in his last 19 games.
"That's not lost on me," Lowrie said of his stats. "I know what I've done this year so far, and I just want to continue to perform and help us win."
Those were the only two runs Hernandez surrendered. Mike Fiers earned his first career win with the A's, allowing two runs in six innings. Despite some hard contact -- including a solo home run by Cameron Maybin that cut the A's lead to 3-2 in the fifth -- Fiers issued no walks for the fifth time this season and held down the fort for the bullpen.
Fiers almost didn't start because of pain in his glutes. Melvin said he had two lineup cards ready to go -- the other with Yusmeiro Petit starting. Fiers shrugged it off as muscle cramps and said it wasn't serious.
"To think he was going to give us six innings -- for me he was pitching on adrenaline because it was touch and go for a little while," Melvin said.
A night after nearly blowing a 7-1 advantage, the relievers were back to form, shutting down the Mariners over the final three innings, with the defense pitching in to keep the A's perfect record (50-0) when leading after seven innings intact. In the eighth inning, Jonathan Lucroy threw out Dee Gordon attempting to swipe second after a leadoff single. Later in the inning, Matt Chapman leaned over the tarp to make a spectacular grab in foul territory on a popup by Robinson Cano.
"That's every night," Fiers said of the defense behind him. "I love it. These guys play hard behind you, never take a pitch off … I feel comfortable, and I can go out and throw strikes and trust guys behind me."
• Chapman elaborates on fan support message
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Lucroy's throw to nab Gordon at second proved pivotal, with Gordon, a speedy runner, representing the tying run in the eighth. The call was upheld after replay review.
"A lot of things you're going to have to do to try to combat that," Melvin said. "Fernando [Rodney] helped him out too with a quick time [to the plate]. Got to be perfect to throw him out and they both were."
In addition to being perfect this season when leading after seven innings, the A's have won each of their last 65 games when leading after seven. It matches the longest streak in franchise history (1927-28).
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Chapman took on the tarp in the eighth inning on the popup by Cano, and he won. Melvin said it came down to a will to catch the baseball.
"He wasn't going to be denied," Melvin said. "If he had to go through the tarp … I think that was his mindset."
HE SAID IT
"They all feel like playoff games. This is the spot I wanna be in. I want to be on a team that's winning and heading for the playoffs, and I feel like this team has a lot of trust in me going out there and pitching for this club. I just want to not let them down. I want to pitch well and give them everything I've got." -- Fiers, on pitching for the A's
The A's will wrap up their pivotal three-game set against the Mariners on Wednesday at 12:35 p.m. PT. Brett Anderson (2-3, 4.53 ERA), who owns a 1.96 ERA over 17 career appearances against the Mariners, will pitch for the A's. The Mariners will send Mike Leake (8-7, 4.11 ERA) to the mound.